Monthly Archives: March 2010

Don’t Let Pride Ruin Your Life or Ministry

David Murray wrote an insightful article on one of the greatest dangers in pastoral ministry–PRIDE. The posting is entitled, “The Pastor’s Worst Enemy.” In the article, he describes the causes, consequences, and cures of pride.

Unfortunately, I felt the sting of three of the consequences as they struck far too close to home.

  • You will become impatient with your less gifted brethren in the ministry or eldership.
  • You will become thoughtlessly insensitive to the traditions and customs of the past.
  • You will become discouraged and discontented because “I deserve better than this crowd!”

How can you not read that without saying, “OUCH!”?

The posting is all the more timely and needed when it is read in conjunction with John Piper’s announcement about his upcoming leave. In explaining the reasons for his leave, Piper said, “I see several species of pride in my soul that, while they may not rise to the level of disqualifying me for ministry, grieve me, and have taken a toll on my relationship with Noël and others who are dear to me.”

Those of us in ministry need to daily examine our own hearts for evidence of pride.

“Search me, O God, and know my heart! Try me and know my thoughts! And see if there be any grievous way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting!” (Psalm 139:23–24, ESV)


Rules for Chocolate Bunnies

In case someone buys you one of those chocolate bunnies this year for Easter, remember these important rules:

• If you get melted chocolate all over your hands, you’re eating it too slowly.

• Diet Tip: Eat some chocolate before each meal. It’ll take the edge off your appetite and you’ll eat less.

• A nice chocolate bunny can provide your total daily intake of calories in one place.

• If you can’t eat all your chocolate bunny, it will keep in the freezer; but if you can’t eat all your chocolate bunny, what’s wrong with you?

• If calories are an issue, store your chocolate bunny on top of the fridge. Calories are afraid of heights, and they will jump out of the chocolate to protect themselves.

• Money talks. Chocolate sings.

• Chocolate has many preservatives. Preservatives make you look younger.

• Why is there no such organization as Chocoholics Anonymous? Because no one wants to quit.

• Put “eat chocolate bunny” at the top of your list of things to do today. That way, at least you’ll get one thing done.

• Chocolate is a health food. Chocolate is derived from cacao beans. Beans are vegetables, aren’t they? Sugar is derived either from sugar beets or cane, both vegetables. Of course, milk is dairy. So eat more chocolate bunny to meet the dietary requirements for your daily vegetable and dairy intake.

From PreachingNOW []

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Posted by on March 30, 2010 in Fun


Performing surgery in the pulpit

“Your sermon stabbed me in the heart, but in a good way,” is probably one of the more unique compliments I have received after preaching a sermon.

Yesterday was Palm Sunday. I preached on Matthew 21:12-22, which records the events that take place the day after Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem. Rather than focus on the parade and pageantry that occurred some 2,000 years ago on that first Palm Sunday, I focused on what took place after the confetti settled. The main point I tried to make is that life is never the same after King Jesus arrives. Once Jesus takes up residence in our lives, we simply cannot go back to normal. The arrival of King Jesus is a life altering event.

I explained that Jesus did four things on the day after Palm Sunday which transformed the lives of his disciples and the people in Jerusalem. He wants to make those same changes in our lives as well.

  • Jesus challenges our priorities. In Matthew 21:12-13, Jesus cleansed the temple and drove out the money changers. The religious leaders were focused on making profit, Jesus was focused on restoring prayer to its rightful place in the temple. They were consumed with the busyness of business, he wanted people to seek the Father.
  • Jesus heals our hurts. Once the merchants had been chased out of the temple area, the helpless and hurting had room to come to Jesus. He met them at their point of need and healed them. In doing so, he removed the barriers that kept them from worshipping. In that culture, a person who was blind or lame was considered unclean. It was assumed their handicap was the result of sin. By healing the needy, Jesus made it possible for them to seek and worship God.
  • Jesus confronts our biases. The religious leaders were concerned about the proper and appropriate way to worship God (verses 15-17). Jesus was willing to accept praise and worship from any and every source. He pointed the leaders back to the Scriptures by asking, “Have you not read . . .” In doing so, Jesus comforted the afflicted and afflicted the comfortable.
  • Jesus expects fruit in our lives. In verses 18-22, Jesus encounters a fig tree in full leaf but without any fruit. In cursing the fig tree, he points out to his followers that outward appearance is not enough, we must be fruitful. We must demonstrate the reality of what we claim.

I closed the message by asking, “Have you given King Jesus permission to cleanse and change your life? Have you given him permission to challenge and rearrange your priorities? Have you given him permission to heal your pain and remove the barriers that keep you from God’s presence? Have you given him permission to confront your biases? Have you given him permission to prune your life in order to make you move fruitful?

In reflecting on the comment that “your sermon stabbed me in the heart,” I realized it was a living paraphrase of Hebrews 4:12-13,

For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart. And no creature is hidden from his sight, but all are naked and exposed to the eyes of him to whom we must give account.

If you would like to listen to the sermon, “After the confetti settles,” you can find it by clicking on this link.


I don’t have time for prayer

The pressures of life and ministry drive people and pastors to work harder and longer. We are tugged towards busyness and activities. It is extremely difficult to make time for solitude and prayer. And yet, we are powerless unless we do. E. M. Bounds, a Civil War chaplain and pastor penned a convicting quote on this subject.

Prayer cannot be retired as a secondary force in this world. To do so is to retire God from the movement. It is to make God secondary. The prayer ministry is an all-engaging force. It must be so to be a force at all. The estimate and place of prayer is the estimate and place of God. To give prayer the secondary place is to make God secondary in life’s affairs. To substitute other forces of prayer retires God and materializes the whole movement.

It is better to let the work go by default than to let the praying go by neglect. Whatever affects the intensity of our praying affects the value of our work. “Too busy to pray” is not only the keynote to backsliding, but it mars even the work done. Nothing is well done without prayer for the simple reason that it leaves God out of the account. It is so easy to be seduced by the good to neglect of the best, until both the good and the best perish. How easy to neglect prayer or abbreviate our praying simply by the plea that we have church work on our hands. Satan has effectively disarmed us when he can keep us too busy doing things to stop and pray.

E. M. Bounds, “The weapon of prayer” in The complete works of E. M.  Bounds

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Posted by on March 25, 2010 in Books, Ministry, Prayer, Quotes


I get the point, I need to PRAY! MORE!

I admit that I am not the most observant person and that I am a slow learner. Sometimes it takes the convergence of several different sources to get my attention and drive home a point. Yesterday was one of those days when God used a bullhorn to say, “Why don’t you talk to me more often?”

Yesterday morning, I was studying Matthew 21:1-22 for a message this week on Palm Sunday. My focus is on verses 12-22 and the events after the triumphal entry. Life is never the same after the King arrives is the main idea I want the congregation to see. The first change Jesus makes is to transform our priorities (verses 12-13). Jesus confronts the religious leaders that they have traded prayer for profit, a relationship with God for rituals. Jesus restores order and returns the temple to its intended purpose–a house of prayer.

In the evening, I read a chapter in Daniel Henderson’s book, Defying gravity: How to survive the storms of pastoral ministry. In chapter 4, “Gauge Two: Spiritual Intimacy,” he speaks of the importance of prayer in developing an intimate relationship with God. He points out that our enemy uses “Weapons of Mass Distraction” to keep us from prayer. “The first priority for unencumbered leadership was prayer. It is clear that this is a profound defense against the Devil’s weapons of mass distraction. This issue of intimacy with God is core to spiritual health and leadership survival.”

I am also reading through J. Kent Edwards’ book, Deep preaching: Creating sermons that go beyond the superficial. In chapter 6, “Take God’s idea into your closet,” the author introduces the concept of “closet work,” the step between studying a passage of Scripture and preparing a sermon. It is in the closet that we pray and listen for the Holy Spirit to teach us and empower us for ministry.

I may be a slow learner, but I don’t need to be whacked with a 2 x 4 to get the point. I think God is telling me to spend more time in prayer.


Posted by on March 24, 2010 in Books, Personal growth, Prayer, Preaching, Quotes


Atheists find profit in religion

In one of those “this is too funny to be true” stories, the February 22, 2010 issue of Business Week contained an article entitled, “Caring for Pets Left Behind by the Rapture.” The article opens by asking the question,

Many people in the U.S.—perhaps 20 million to 40 million—believe there will be a Second Coming in their lifetimes, followed by the Rapture . In this event, they say, the righteous will be spirited away to a better place while the godless remain on Earth. But what will become of all the pets?

The article goes on to describe the latest brainchild of Bart Centre, a retired retail executive from New Hampshire. Knowing that many religious people care about their pets, Centre started a service called Eternal Earthbound Pets, that promises to rescue and care for animals left behind by the saved. The home page of the organization contains the following information,

You’ve committed your life to Jesus. You know you’re saved.  But when the Rapture comes what’s to become of your loving pets who are left behind?   Eternal Earth-Bound Pets takes that burden off your mind. 

We are a group of dedicated animal lovers, and atheists. Each Eternal Earth-Bound Pet representative is a confirmed atheist, and as such will still be here on Earth after you’ve received your reward.  Our network of animal activists are committed to step in when you step up to Jesus.

For the low price of $110, one pet per household will be rescued, provided of course, the Rapture occurs within 10 years of receipt of payment. Centre’s network consists of 26 rescuers covering 22 states and he has already signed up 100 people.

I don’t know whether to laugh or cry especially when Centre confesses, “If we thought the Rapture was really going to happen, obviously our rate structure would be much higher,” and, “I’m trying to figure out how to cash in on this hysteria to supplement my income.”  

While I care what happens to my cat, wouldn’t the $110 be better spent on evangelism than pet rescue? What a crazy world we live in. SIGH!

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Posted by on March 22, 2010 in Culture, News stories


In praise of flight attendants and good samaritans

On a recent Alaska Airlines flight, I was seated in row 29 out of 31, which meant 164 people arrived at our destination before I did. But it also meant I saw a praiseworthy demonstration of professionalism in action.

We were about 45 minutes from our destination when a teenaged girl collapsed in the aisle next to my row. The flight attendants quickly moved into action laying her down on the floor, getting her comfortable, and making the proverbial, “Is there a doctor in the house?” announcement. Two doctors quickly appeared, one a family practice MD from Olympia and another a surgeon. The family practice doc arrived first and took charge. He was both professional, friendly, and compassionate. He engaged the teenager in conversation, checked her vital signs, ascertained her medical condition (which turned out not to be serious), and distracted her from her situation. The flight attendants calmed the passengers, finished their pre-landing preparations, and relayed the information about our medical emergency to the pilot and tower, which in turn moved us to the front of the landing queue. Each person acted in the manner to which they were trained.

When the doctor was thanked by the flight attendants, he simply said, “I’m just doing what I hope someone else would do for my children.”

Way to go, Alaska Airlines! Way to go, Doc!

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Posted by on March 21, 2010 in Alaska Airlines, Leadership


Who knew Dawgs could dance?

Congrats to the University of Washington Huskies! Sweet Sixteen and still dancing. Go Dawgs!

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Posted by on March 20, 2010 in Fun, Sports


How do you decide what to preach?

Occasionally I come across an author who seemed to be reading my mind and spoke my ideas out loud. He expresses my philosophy of life and ministry even better than I can. I want to shout, “That’s exactly what I was trying to say!” I had one of those moments today regarding my philosophy of preaching.

My approach to preaching is that I want to communicate the whole counsel of God (Acts 20:27). Over the course of time, I try to find a balance between Old Testament book studies, New Testament book studies, and topical series. In his book, Deep Preaching: Creating Sermons that Go Beyond the Superficial, author J. Kent Edwards expressed my philosophy even better than I could.

How do you decide what to preach? What criteria guide your decision? Even if you are committed to preaching Scripture, the question remains. What portion of the Bible will you preach this week, month, and year? What parts will you not preach? Why?

Many preachers regularly decide to preach topically, to bring Scripture to bear on a subject that a biblical author never specifically addressed. Topical sermons on “how to date” or “how to handle stress” can be helpful and biblical. Topical sermons are not necessarily second-rate sermons. In more than 25 years of being a pastor, however, I have chosen not to feed my congregations a steady diet of topical preaching. My practice has been to preach through the books of the Bible. I have chosen to preach the ideas that the biblical writers have placed within the natural units of the Scripture they were inspired to write. Why?

I preach through books of the Bible because I’m not that smart. Some preachers seem to overflow with penetrating and insightful ideas that perfectly fit with the unique needs of their audience. Not me. I try to know my people well, and I will occasionally preach topical sermons that I believe are both relevant and necessary, given a particular cultural or congregational situation. At their best, such sermons seem highly effective. But every week?

To my mind, it seems presumptuous for a preacher to claim to have perfect clarity into what their congregation needs to hear next. I struggle to understand what my own heart needs: how do topical preachers possess such tremendous spiritual clarity into the unique needs of their local congregations? I’ve come to realize that many don’t.

 I wished that I could have said it that well.

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Posted by on March 19, 2010 in Books, Preaching, Quotes


Prepare your sermon for maximum impact

“A sermon prepared in the mind reaches minds. A sermon prepared in the heart reaches hearts. A sermon prepared in the life reaches lives.”

Cited in Defying Gravity: How to Survive the Storms of Pastoral Ministry, by Daniel Henderson

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Posted by on March 18, 2010 in Books, Preaching, Quotes